March 2010

Monday at home

(For the sake of full disclosure, this is Jonathan Mayo, filling in for Ian Browne for the day at City of Palms Park).

Just a couple of quick notes prior to the game today against the Cardinals:

 – Nothing really new to report on Mike Lowell (thumb). He had the day off on Sunday and took live BP today. There’s no official timetable, but there was the hope he could see some game action by the end of the week. “I think he’d like to shoot for the end of the week to get into games,” Terry Francona said. “I’m not discouraging that. I just want to see him be OK. I don’t want to run him out there before he’s ready. Everybody gets anxious and I understand that. But we want to keep our eyes on him for this week and see how he’s doing.”

 – Daisuke Matsuzaka (back) seems to be feeling pretty good following his side session on Sunday. In an ideal world, he’d like to throw his next bullpen tomorrow. The logistics of the schedule may not allow that. The Redsox have a three-game swing on the East Coast beginning tomorrow. Pitching coach John Farrell is slated to go on the first day of the trip, so the Sox will likely try to delay Matsuzaka’s session until Wednesday so Farrell can be in attendance. “I think he’s chomping at the bit, which we’re glad [about],” Francona said. “But if we move it back one day, the rest will never hurt and John can be there for it, which is important.”

 — OF Zach Daeges‘ big-league camp experience is over before it really got the chance to get started. An non-roster invitee, Daeges hasn’t been able to play as he’s dealt with a lat injury. With it clear that he wouldn’t be ready to play in the next few days, the Red Sox informed Daeges that they were sending him over to the Minor League side so he could get more individualized attention for his injury. “It’s a shame. We kind of wanted to see him play and it’s obvious we’re not,” Francona said.

Pitching for a spot

While Clay Buchholz (two innings, five hits, three runs, two walks, 37 pitches) had a somewhat forgettable day, he is past the point in his career where he needs to be measured by Spring Training stats. Yet there is still one little problem: The Red Sox have more Major League-worthy starters (six) than spots (five).

Buchholz can add. He knows this. Is it a little awkward?

“It would be awkward for anybody. I guess there’s four guys regardless what happens will be on the staff,” Buchholz said. “The other two, three guys, yeah it’s awkward. Got to basically do what I did last spring, do what I did to finish he season last year, and I think everything will take care of itself.”

It was a pretty good deay for a couple of other guys trying to make the team in the bullpen. Scott Atchison had a 1-2-3 inning, striking out two.

Boof Bonser looked extremely sharp for the second outing in a row, striking out three and giving up one hit over two innings. Bonser is being stretched out like a starter, but has the inside track on a spot in the bullpen.

“He’s got a nice, clean delivery,” said Francona. “For a guy who has gone through some things with his shoulder, he likes to pitch. He doesn’t look scared. He’s a really interesting guy. We’ll try to build him up and see where it will take him. I think as he builds up and gets some of that velocity back, he gets a little bit more interesting.”

 Atchison, meanwhile, is competing with Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse and some others for what would probably be the 12th slot on the staff.

The big story of the day was the hometown kid, Casey Kelly, firing off two shutout innings. It was Kelly’s first time back at Ed Smith Stadium since he led Sarasota High School to a state championship in 2007.

Even veteran umpire John Hirschbeck was taken aback that Kelly is only 20.

“Even the umpire, between innings, was like, how old is that kid?” Francona said.

In other news, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, citing a source familiar with the talks, says that early discussions between Josh Beckett and the Red Sox have been amicable, perhaps creating optimism that the ace will never get to free agency at the end of the season. It should be noted that it is still very early in the process.

Sunday in Sarasota

As we wait for Clay Buchholz to make his Grapefruit League debut and Casey Kelly to pitch against Major League hitters for the first time in his hometown to boot, here are some quick hits from this morning:

There could be a schedule of progression for third baseman Mike Lowell by tomorrow. Lowell was expected to huddle with trainer Mike Reinold today in Fort Myers to map things out as far as when he might be game ready.

Daisuke Matsuzaka had his first true bullpen session of camp this morning, meaning that the catcher was in a full crouch the entire time. Pitching coach John Farrell told manager Terry Francona that March 18 could be a rough estimate of when Dice-K is ready to pitch in games. The Red Sox don’t play on March 18 — the team’s only off-day of Spring Training — so perhaps that won’t be the date. Or there’s always a B game. 

Farrell said that Dice will throw another bullpen in two to three days, and then batting practice by Friday or Saturday. If all goes well, he could pitch a Minor League game after that instead of a second BP session.

Wondering why Jason Varitek hasn’t been in a game since Wednesday night? The catcher has been tending to a personal matter, and the Red Sox have given him their blessing to prioritize that and return when he is ready.

“We just told him to handle what he needs to and we’ll make adjustments. He knows he has our blessing to do what he needs to do,” Francona said.

There hasn’t been much buzz about prospect Michael Bowden lately, perhaps because he got rocked in limited opportunities with the big league team last year. But there has been progress in his development.

“I’ve got to go back a little ways. A couple years ago, he went to that API in Florida, and he got strong. He got big. Now, he’s slimmed down a little bit, but he didn’t sacrifice strength,” Francona said. “We don’t really want him to do that. But he’s had so many adjustments in his delivery – as you can tell, you see him every few months, there’s a little bit different
delivery. We want him to be a little bit more relaxed and fluid in his delivery. I see him every day in that weight room, in the mirror, which is good. We’re just trying to have, I think that’s the right word, a little bit less tight.”

Meanwhile, Jacoby Ellsbury, who gets a start in center today with Mike Cameron not on the trip, is vying for the early team leader in bus rides, at least among the established players.

“Jacoby needs to pull for another wave of young guys – because he’s making some tough trips. He’s the youngest guy, he’s going to get [the brunt of it],” laughed Francona. “I hate to tell him that.”

Lackey breezes in Sox (unofficial) debut

John Lackey, pitching for the first time in a Boston uniform, cruised in his two innings at City of Palms Park. He retired all six Minnesota hitters he faced. Lackey fired 19 pitches, 11 for strikes.

“Felt pretty good. It’s a good place to start from,” said Lackey. “It’s always different when you have to sit down and get back up for that second inning. It’s a little harder to get loose that second inning, as opposed to the first. But overall, pretty good, keep moving forward.”

Lackey is happy just to blend in with the Sox, and has no visions that he will get the call on Opening Night (April 4) against the Yankees.

“I’m not worried about that, at all,” said Lackey. “If the roles were reversed, and I would have stayed in Anaheim and those guys had come over there, I would expect to still be going first. I Think those guys have earned the right. They’ve won a lot of games for Tito, and to go in front of me, I’m alright with that.”

After starting the last two seasons on the disabled list, Lackey’s main goal this spring is just to get through it healthy.

“For sure, it’s something I’ve taken into account, working out, trying to strengthen my arm a bit more, and being a little more careful in my throwing program,” Lackey said.

For a first Spring Training game, Lackey felt strong.

“Probably the best indicator today was when I got to 3-1, to Delmon Young and pretty much challenged him with a fastball down the middle, and he fouled it off. That means I had a little life on my fastball,” Lackey said.

Friday from the Fort

Manager Terry Francona was in the middle of his post-game session with the media, when Ron Gardenhire spotted him.

“Tito!” the Twins’ manager yelled.

“Gardy!” Francona shouted back.

“One and one, baby!” Gardenhire said, as Francona howled with laughter.

Yes, the riveting Mayor’s Cup — a best-of-seven series this spring — is now tied at 1-1. This on a day the Twins beat the Red Sox, 5-0.

The day started at City of Palms Park, where the Red Sox went through a normal pre-game routine at their own park before taking the seven-mile jaunt to the Twins’ complex.

“It’s like a Spring Training day in Arizona,” quipped Francona, who was definitely talking about the proximity and not the weather, which is still chillier than Floridians are accustomed to at this time of year.

Daisuke Matsuzaka reeled off 58 pitches in the bullpen, the last 10 of which came with the catcher in a full crouch. Yes, the Red Sox are easing the righty back into a full throwing program after the back woes that plagued him at the start of camp. But all systems are now go for Matsuzaka, who will throw a full side session on Sunday and then progress to game action at some point in the near future. There is no official word yet, but judging by the timing alone, it’s doubtful Dice-K will be ready for the very start of the season. But this isn’t big news when you consider the Red Sox have three off-days before they play their eighth game. Do some quick math and you realize Francona doesn’t even need a fifth starter until April 18. Expect the club not to rush Dice-K and keep the long term as the priority.

Third baseman Mike Lowell is also feeling quite well in his recovery from right thumb surgery, and he told Francona he could play in a game next Wednesday. But it doesn’t sound like that will happen. I’m sure Lowell is antsy to get back out there, so his situation can start getting resolved. Obviously he wants to prove his health and possibly land an every-day job somewhere else.

“He was pushing today to play Wednesday so obviously he’s feeling pretty good,” Francona said. “I still think that’s pretty quick.”

The Red Sox have long road trips on Thursday an Friday of next week, so the home game on March 13 against the Pirates could be a more realistic date for Lowell to make his spring debut.

The game itself — other than the drop in the Mayor’s Cup standings — was pretty uneventful. Jon Lester had a rocky first inning — three hits, four runs —  but nobody was concerned about it. Tim Wakefield dazzled in his first two innings since back surgery, giving up one hit and no other baserunners. The knuckleballer threw 22 pitches, 16 for strikes.

Saturday, the stage will belong to John Lackey. The $82.5 million man will throw his first game pitches in a Red Sox uniform, which will be a soft launch of sorts for his real debut next month, likely against the Yankees at Fenway.

Run prevention on display in chilly Florida

It was 62 degrees at game-time. Or at least that’s what was announced.

“My [butt],” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona following his team’s 2-1 Grapefruit League victory over the Twins on Thursday night at City of Palms.

The manager was asked if he thinks he’ll need to get out of Florida before rediscovering what it is like to be warm. The manager was tempted to peel off some layers before answering the question.

“Everything that the Red Sox have ever issued me, I wore,” quipped Francona. “It was awful. “

Not so awful, however, was the type of baseball the Red Sox put on display. All winter, there was talk of their improved run-prevention, the type of ball that will play well in the October chill.

The plan was showcased against the Twins. Marco Scutaro made two dazzling defensive plays. The bullpen got shutout innings from everyone, a group that included Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard (pictured below by Brita Meng Outzen), Ramon Ramirz, Brian Shose, Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson.
The man who wowed the crowd was the new shortstop. Scutaro ranged smoothly to the hole to start an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the first. And wiht Hideki Okajima pitching in the fourth, Scutaro opened the inning with a brilliant diving stop to rob Alexi Casilla of a hit.

“I think I’ve said early on, as people watch him play, they’ll come quickly to realize why we wanted him,” Francona said. “Those are really good plays. We played a crisp game defensively. We didn’t’ do much offensively. And I know it’s Spring Training, but it’s a nice way to win a game. “

And don’t forget about the vital importance. The Red Sox have taken a 1-0 lead against the Twins in the all-important Mayor’s Cup standings. But the Twins are hardly panicking, with six games left, including today and tomorrow. Ever wonder what the Mayor’s Cup Trophy looks like? Check it out, in all its’ glory.

Iglesias makes an opening splash

It was a moment Cuban defector Jose Iglesias had been thirsting for ever since the Red Sox signed him to a Major League contract last September. And then it finally happened in the bottom of the third inning of Wednesday night’s exhibition game against Boston College.

Marco Scutaro, Boston’s shortstop of the present, had just reached on an infield single. And Red Sox manager Terry Francona swiftly called on Iglesias, the team’s shortstop of the future, to pinch-run.

In what seemed like a blur, Iglesias whipped out of the dugout and relieved Scutaro. He was now playing for the Boston Red Sox, even if it was only an exhibition game. For Iglesias, who is just 20 years old, it was enough to have his heart racing with excitement.

“He looked like he was ready to play,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “He wasn’t messing around. he was obviously very excited to play the game and he kind of came out in a hurry.”

And when Iglesias got his chance to hit, with the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth, he jumped on the first pitch he saw, roping it into the corner in left for a three-run double.

“I was excited,” Iglesias said. “I hit the ball good and I was pumped. But once I got to second base, I had to concentrate on running the bases too because that’s important.”I was excited to play in my first Spring Training game and get my first Spring Training at-bat and I was just happy to swing the bat good.”

It was a whirlwind experience, but one Iglesias — pictured below by Brita Meng Outzen — will savor.
“It’s like a dream playing here and playing in my first game in a Red Sox uniform,” said Iglesias. “I still have to work hard and do things every day to get better. That’s what I’m coming here to do every day.”

One game in the books — and Ino is 0-for-2

The 2010 Red Sox have officially played a game. OK, it’s not quite official. In fact, it doesn’t even count as a Grapefruit League game. But it was a 15-0 victory over Northeastern.

There was a sequence in this game you might never see again. Ino Guerrero, wearing No. 34, hit for the team’s other No. 34 — a guy named Big Papi.

Who is Ino Guerrero? His official title is “Major League staff”. Mainly, he is a batting practice pitcher. When Manny Ramirez played for the Red Sox, Ino threw just about all of his BP sessions. He still throws to David Ortiz all the time. The Red Sox had fun with his two at-bats, which resulted in two soft groundouts. Red Sox veterans heckled Guerrero from the top step of the dugout as he battled against Northeastern. Guerrero, pictured below by Brita Meng Outzen, grounded out so weakly in his second at-bat, that he didn’t even bother running out of
the box.

“We’ve had a couple [of highlights] — the ’04 and ’07 [titles] are definitely at the top, but the Ino at-bats are right there. I never have caught myself rooting against our people,” Francona said, laughing. “That’s hard to say. But it’s one of the highlights, man. We’re playing Northeastern and every player from the next game is on the rail watching, pulling for a pulled hamstring. He warmed up for six innings!”

Ortiz, already dressed and ready to go home, checked out his BP pitcher from the dugout in amusement.
Before the game turned into pure fun, Ortiz belted a two-run homer to right, a good sign for the Sox even if it was a windy (blowing out) type of day against college competition.

“David put good swings on the ball, and had good at-bats,” said Red Sox catcher Victor Martinez. “That’s a pretty good sign for this early in the camp.”

Meanwhile, Casey Kelly experienced his first taste of pitching for the Red Sox, firing 10 pitches in a scoreless first inning that also included two strikeouts.

While the Red Sox were tuning up with Northeastern — with a nightcap soon to start against Boston College — Clay Buchholz got two innings in over at the Minor League complex.

One Red Sox prospect you don’t hear as much about as some of the others is Che-Hsuan Lin, a speedy center fielder from Taiwan. You right remember Lin being named MVP of the Futures Game at Yankee Stadium two years ago. Lin started the Northeastern game and went 2-for-4.

“He smacked the ball,” said Francona. “It’s a nice way for a young kid to get his first chance to swing a bat in this atmosphere. I’m sure he probably had a little heartbeat going.”

Dice-K has a mound date

Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka will throw his first full-fledged side session of camp on Friday morning. Dice-K, who had a minor back issue earlier in camp that forced his delayed program, played long toss again on Wednesday morning, and finished by throwing some pitches off the mound, with the catcher standing up.

 “Dice-K had a real good day and he’ll have a side on Friday,” said Red Sox manager Terry Francona. “[Wednesday] was the same as last time. Catcher didn’t get down yet but it’s a way of progressing. Once you get out there to 180, 190 feet and you’re fully loose, then you get on the mound and create that angle, but not as much as when you have the catcher down. He’ll go right to the bullpen Friday.”

The Red Sox are confident Matsuzaka is completely over the injury.

“I think he’s done it the right way,” Francona said. “There’s no way you can get out and throw as far as he has [and not be healthy], that’s hard to do. It’s impressive, actually. He’s ready to go. He’s ready to go. The timing, I think we did it right.”

In other nuts and bolts-type news:

Casey Kelly’s first game action in a Red Sox uniform was productive and brief. He threw 10 pitches, seven of them strikes, in setting Northeastern down 1-2-3.

“I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since I got off the mound,” said Kelly. “It was a good first outing. To have the crowd, and some of the people behind me playing defense behind me was a tremendous honor.”

Center fielder Mike Cameron, bothered by minor tightness in his left groin this week, will likely take his first “game swings” in a Sox uniform in Friday’s game against the Twins. J.D. Drew is expected to make his spring debut that day also, serving as the DH.

Francona said that nothing is wrong with Drew physically.

“I think I’m probably slowing him down,” Francona said. “He stayed indoors a day and a half.
I just don’t think it makes sense to rush him. I think I’ve been around him long enough that I think I know what works for him, and that’s why we have spring training. I don’t think it’s a huge big deal that we run our everyday lineup out there today or tomorrow.”

Though there aren’t many positional battles in camp, one to watch is for the final slot(s) in the bullpen. Right-hander Joe Nelson and lefty Brian Shouse are two veteran contenders who are in the running. It is a fine line because the Red Sox have never been big on evaluating specific results from Spring Training games.

“It’s not easy,” Francona said. “It’s really not. That’s why, as we get into this, we watch how they’re throwing the ball. You can make some mistakes. Shouse is a good example. If he goes through a day where a couple of righties take him over the palm trees, that doesn’t mean he can’t help your team. We try to make good decisions on what can help your ballclub.”

Mike Lowell continues to get closer to game action, though no official date has been set.

“Mikey was already in the cage. He’s going to take BP again today,” Francona said. “He actually, [hitting coach Dave Magadan] made a comment that he looked pretty good – the ball was coming off his bat pretty good. I think Mikey was happy about it.”

Game(s) On!

Two weeks of monotony — bullpen sessions, batting practice, pickoff drills — you know, the stuff we all get excited about when we first get to Spring Training — has ended. Now, your 2010 Red Sox are ready to start taking the field in games, albeit of the exhibition style.

It starts with a soft launch of sorts on Wednesday, with the Sox hosting college foes Northeastern (1 p.m.) and Boston College  (6 p.m.) in a day-night doubleheader.

Sox manager Terry Francona, for one, is a big fan of the college games as a way to start the spring.

“I really do,” Francona said. “I hate playing intrasquad games. I think its a waste of a lot of peoples time in camp. The guys that are pitching get something out of it but everybody else is doing a lot of sitting around. Nobody likes facing guys in same uniform, so this is a really good way of getting into our games, I love them.”
On Thursday, MLB competition starts when the Twins come to COP — that’s the lingo for City of Palms Park. Anyway, the Sox return the favor and go to the Twins’ facility in Fort Myers on Friday. Then there is split squad action Saturday. The Sox back at COP against the Twins, and also in Port Charlotte against the Rays. Sunday is a trip of 75 minutes or so to see the Orioles in Sarasota.

The Red Sox’s proficient media relations staff released their pitching schedules for the next several days in an e-mail today.

Against Northeastern, the Red Sox are pitching Casey Kelly, Manny Delcarmen, Adam Mills, Felix Doubront, Dustin Richardson, Ramon A. Ramirez (the waiver pickup not to be confused with the key setup man) and Robert Manuel. For the nightcap against BC, you will see Boof Bonser, Michael Bowden, Junichi Tazawa , Kyle Weiland, Kris Johnson, Fabio Castro and Randor Bierd.

OK, are you ready for Thursday night vs. Minny? Ready or not, here goes.Josh Beckett, Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard, Ramon Ramirez, Brian Shouse, Scott Atchison and Joe Nelson.

Friday’s game at Hammond Stadium. Jon Lester (pictured below by Brita Meng Outzen), Tim Wakefield, Fernando Cabrera, Dustin Richardson, Ramon A. Ramirez, Robert Manuel, Randor Bier.
Saturday at home. John Lackey, Michael Bowden, Manny Delcarmen, Brian Shouse, Joe Nelson, Junichi Tazawa.

Saturday on the road: Felix Doubront, Adam Mills, Kyle Weiland, Fabio Castro.

Sunday at Sarasota: Clay Buchholz (SP), Boof Bonser, Daniel Bard, Scott Atchison, Casey Kelly, Robert Manuel. 

So we basically bid adieu to the Player Development Complex until next year, though we are sure to wind up there occasionally for side sessions and B games and the like.

I’ll be blogging and tweeting throughout Wednesday’s doubleheader.

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